Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired promotes new tech to north country
By JEN JACKSON
PUBLISHED: WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 2, 2017 AT 5:15 AM
WATERTOWN — Lawrence W. Storie saw the color of his wife’s eyes for the first time in 17 years, went stargazing for the first time in 40 years and watched his son Jack play soccer for the first time ever — thanks to the very kind of technology he’s working to bring to all blind and visually impaired people of Northern New York.
Mr. Storie has been executive director of the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired of Jefferson County since March. He is legally blind.
He was born with Stargardt Disease, the most common form of inherited juvenile macular degeneration, which causes progressive vision loss. He was diagnosed when he was 25.
A few weeks ago, Mr. Storie got NuEyes smart-glasses for low vision.
The electronic glasses use a camera to magnify up to 12 times normal sight and help those with conditions from macular degeneration to glaucoma and more with everyday tasks like cooking, reading, traveling and going to school.
“The north country is 25 years behind the times with technology,” Mr. Storie said.
Since the agency reorganized and moved to the newly renovated Philanthropy Building on Washington Street, he and his staff are focusing on connecting technology to the individual needs of their clients, to improve independence and quality of life.
“It’s exciting, we can actually live a normal life now through technology, and it’s not just the glasses, we can find the right tools for each person’s life and needs,” Mr. Storie said.
Other tools the ABVI will work to get for their clients include computer and smartphone software, camera-equipped transformers to display a magnified view on-screen, object-sensing glasses that vibrate for people who use canes, and much more.
These technologies can also allow their clients to get back to work, something many of them desperately want to do.
“In (Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties) there are nearly 3,000 people who are blind or visually impaired. We need to accommodate for these folks to get them into the workforce, schools and the community in general,” Mr. Storie said.
“We tell (our clients) ‘If you can get the job, we’ll get you the equipment.”
These kinds of technology often come with a high price tag, however, and even smartphones are out of reach for many people.
The ABVI has set aside funds to help purchase equipment and has applied for various grants, but it’s also pushing for Medicaid and Medicare to cover the life-altering gear — something not currently covered by either programs or most private health insurance policies.
The organization has come out in support of a federal bill, H.R. 2050, which would require Medicare to cover low vision devices.
With his NuEyes glasses, Mr. Storie said he was finally part of the crowd at his 17-year-old son’s soccer game, watching the action with everyone else.
“I’m not afraid to wear the glasses out now. I go and get my own groceries. I’m not going to hide it,” he said. “Many of our clients try to hide (visual impairment) because people treat them differently ... that’s why it’s so important to raise awareness of our services and get the community and businesses to support us and our clients.”